Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Daily Ghost Post – F is for Funayurei

Phantom ships and their spectral passengers are an integral part of world folklore. The Flying Dutchman is a famous example. Captained by a man condemned to sail the seas forevermore, The Flying Dutchman has terrorized seafaring folk for hundreds of years. Just one innocent sighting of the boat means your doom.

Another ghostly ship hails from colonial America. It sailed from New Haven, CT and didn’t return when expected. Months later, spectators on shore were delighted to see her on the horizon. But as she emerged from the mists, something strange happened. Right before the stunned eyes of New Haven’s people, the boat stopped moving and slowly fell apart, one plank at a time. In horror, the people on shore witnessed a ghostly reenactment of the ship’s demise. That was when they realized that the New Haven ship approached shore one last time to let loved ones know why its passengers would never come home again.

Japan has numerous legends about ships and drowned passengers who return in ghostly forms. “Funa” is the Japanese work for ship – “yurei” is the word for ghosts. And the funayurei are pretty scary when they come for a visit.

Hishaku, hishaku, lend us a hishaku….

A hishaku is a large spoon or ladle.

Hishaku, hishaku, lend us a hishaku….

This is a phrase you do not want to hear when you sail in the waters around Japan. It is almost better to meet the funayurei when they are clustered together on a phantom ship. Then it is all over quickly. Whirlpool. Sucked in. Finished.

But when you hear a sing-song chant on the salty wind –

Hishaku, hishaku, lend us a hishaku
….

– look to the water. Wrapped in ghostly white kimonos, specters of dead sailors swim all around the boat. They seem to be everywhere. All at once they stop swimming and stare up at the boat. Then one by one, hundreds of ghostly hands reach up. Slowly, the specters rise, hovering over the water, their arms stretching toward the boat, toward you.

Hishaku, hishaku, lend us a hishaku

With their eerie words and plaintive gestures, the funayurei invite you to join them in the watery depths of death. Infesting the waters all around the boat, they prevent your ship from moving. Then, compelled by something you can’t explain, you find a hishaku and hand it over.

Once the funayurei receive that hishaku, they fill it with water. Then they pour ladleful after ladleful of water into your boat. Slowly the boat fills. Soon your boat sinks down, down, down to join the funayurei.

From that day forth, when boats sail near, you wear a white kimono, swim around the boat, and stretch out your lonely arms.

Hishaku, hishaku, lend us a hishaku
….

How’s that for a creepy boat ride? But take heart. Crafty sailors know how to stop the funayurei. They offer them ladles that have holes in them. While the funayurei are busy trying to fill those ladles, those crafty sailors quickly and quietly sail to safer waters.

I wonder if Harry Potter creator JK Rowling was inspired by the traditional imagery of funayurei. The scene at the cave when Harry and Dumbledore seek a horcrux reminds me of the funayurei legend. The instant Harry dips his cup in the water, swarms of undead creatures rise up to pull him down to the depths.

Hishaku, hiskaku, lend us a hishaku

Folkloric images are very powerful. Not only do they serve as fonts of inspiration (Richard Wagner wrote a whole opera called The Flying Dutchman), they can be terrifying. That’s why I will carry ladles with holes – heck I’ll even pack colanders – if I ever take a boat ride in Japan.

Do you know any phantom ship lore? Share your thoughts below!

********************

Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES:
Botkin, B.A. (1989). A Treasury of New England Folklore. American Legacy Press, NY
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (2007). The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, 3rd Edition. Checkmark Books.
Rowling, JK. (2006). Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Scholastic, NY.
Wikipedia – funayurei
http://hyakumonogatari.com/2010/10/28/funa-yurei/

PHOTO CREDIT: By Illustrator Henry Austin (The Project Gutenberg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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14 thoughts on “Daily Ghost Post – F is for Funayurei

  1. That was indeed quite creepy.
    I love legend about the sea, and I love ghosts as you know.
    And by the way, I love that picture too 😉

  2. I love ghost stories. I guess it makes sense Japan has lots of ghost ships – they are surrounded by water.

  3. These are wonderful stories. I’ll be back for more.

  4. What a great post! I love ghost stories, and I love Japanese culture too. I saw your tweet over on Jazzfeathers’ profile and thought I’d come by. I’m so glad I did! Happy A to Z!

  5. One of my favorite Ghost Ship stories is the Palatine Lights, a burning ship spied off the coast of Block Island here is a link to the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palatine_Light Here is a book resource: http://www.islandboundbookstore.com/featured/palatine-ship-ghost-ship-block-island There are more links online if the story intrigues you.

  6. This one scares close to home, because I love being on the ocean. Now I’ll be listening for “hishaku, hishaku…”

  7. No lore, but I have always enjoyed The Fog which has a lovely, nasty ghost ship in it :).
    Tasha
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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